, , , , , , , , ,

Pope Francis
Pope Francis visits the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage site in Alberta, Canada, Tuesday, July 26, 2022. Pope Francis travelled to Canada to apologise to Indigenous peoples for the abuses committed by Catholic missionaries in the country’s notorious residential schools. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (america.magazine.org)



  • The Indian Act of 1876
  • Reserves and Residential Schools 

Pope Francis was in Canada for six days on a reconciliation mission. He has now returned to the Vatican.

In 1876, a few years after the Canadian Confederation (1867), the government of the Dominion of Canada passed the Indian Act (1876). Amerindians had to live on Reserves, and their children were forcibly taken to “Residential Schools.” The goal of Residential Schools was to assimilate native children into Euro-Canadian society, which, according to Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, required withdrawing them from the Reserves where their parents, “savages,” lived. The children were to be put in “central training industrial schools.”

When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.
Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Introduction, p. 3) 
(Wayback Machine.)



According to the documents I have read and supplied, the story of Residential Schools begins in New France. At first, I did not understand how residential schools originated in New France. I now believe the reference to New France is about its missionaries. Conversion to Christianity was a form of acculturation. But the French married Amerindians.

So, to my knowledge, there were no Indian Reserves before Canadian Confederation and children were not forcibly removed from their parents to attend Residential Schools. These events unfolded after the passage of the Indian Act of 1876. Residential Schools dated to 1880 and were not closed until the last quarter of the 20th century.

However, legislation transforming Amerindians into Euro-Canadians precedes the Indian Act of 1876, but it was not implemented. A list of relevant legislation is included in the Indian Act of 1876 (precursors and amendments). Therefore, by 1876, after Canadian Confederation, the ground was laid for the Indian Act. The Province of Canada (1841-1867) passed the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857, but the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 followed Canadian Confederation (1967). The Indian Act of 1876 differed from earlier legislation because it was imposed rather than negotiated. Treaties were negotiated.

Assimilation & Abuse

  • Devaluation
  • Neglect
  • Programmed assimilation as genocide

Children who lived in Residential Schools were to be assimilated into the dominant Euro-Canadian culture. First, they were not allowed to speak a native language. If they did, they were punished. As a result, they viewed their language as inferior to Euro-Canadian languages, mainly English, which was a devaluation of their person.

The assimilation of native children into Euro-Canadians was objectionable, but abuse, including sexual abuse, was devastatingly harmful. These children had been separated from their parents and had no one to go to, so it was all too easy for the staff of Residential Schools to use their wards to gratify sexual urges unpunished and remorselessly. Sexual abuse is an egregious invasion of one’s privacy.

In fact, neglect alone can cripple a child. No one looked after these children if they had a headache, toothache, flu, or chapped lips. Many died and were buried in unmarked graves as though they had never lived.

The Science of Neglect, Harvard University


On the plane taking him back to Italy, Pope Francis spoke of a “genocide.” The Pope had not used the word “genocide” when he was in Canada, but on the plane, looking back, the word came to his mind. There had been a genocide, and most schools were administered by the Catholic clergy. Children were born in Residential Schools. What happened to these babies? As noted above, neglect during childhood may harm a child permanently. Moreover, after Confederation, many indigenous women were forcibly sterilised. It also became easy to lose one’s status as an indigenous. A list of policies can be found under the Indian Act of 1876. However, the Indian Act itself aimed to eliminate Amerindians, and many died.

Documents, including hundreds of photographs, implicating the Oblates have been found at the Vatican.


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

  • Phil Fontaine
  • Royal Proclamation of 1763

Phil Fontaine has been a leader in the movement that ended Residential Schools. Phil Fontaine negotiated a massive settlement for the victims of a major violation of human rights. Canada’s Indigenous population used the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the appropriate document. When Nouvelle-France fell to Britain, citizens of the Thirteen Colonies and would-be settlers rushed west with land grants. Chief Pontiac and other Amerindians push them back. Pontiac’s War was merciless and understandably so. Jeffery Amherst was attempting to spread smallpox, and disease that could have eliminated North America’s aboriginals. George III of England created a large reserve to protect Amerindians and settlers. Canada’s natives are using the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to validate their claims. That document is entrenched in the Constitution of 1982.

Phil Fontaine is

[a]n advocate for human rights, and a survivor of residential school abuse, Fontaine’s crowning achievement to date is the residential schools settlement. At $5.6 billion in individual compensation, Fontaine negotiated the largest settlement in Canadian history – for the largest human rights violation in Canadian history – arising out of the 150-year Indian residential school tragedy. (See National Speakers Bureau.)

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to compensate survivors and initiate a new and healthy relationship between natives and the nations that settled in Canada.

Between 2007 and 2015, the Government of Canada provided about $72 million to support the TRC's work. The TRC spent 6 years travelling to all parts of Canada and heard from more than 6,500 witnesses. The TRC also hosted 7 national events across Canada to engage the Canadian public, educate people about the history and legacy of the residential schools system, and share and honour the experiences of former students and their families. (See Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadian Government.)

Pope Francis in Canada

  • An Act of Charity

Although most Residential Schools were administered by Catholics, Pope Francis did not have to come to Canada on a penitential mission. Residential Schools were created by John A. Macdonald’s government. However, Phil Fontaine and other Amerindians went to the Vatican to invite him, and Pope Francis, who understood the importance of travelling to Canada, accepted the invitation. He recognised the wrongs committed by the Catholic administrators of Residential Schools. He apologised everywhere he travelled and used the word “genocide” to describe a tragedy.

The Pope is the leader of the Catholic Church, yet he spoke directly and informally with people who have suffered immensely. He mingled with Canada’s Natives and its Métis people, which was more than a formal apology. Pope Francis may have played the most significant role in a process favouring a dialogue that would lead to reconciliation. It was to that end that Canada established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There simply could not be a more exemplary gesture than Pope Francis’s visit in a process called Truth and Reconciliation. The Pope, an older gentleman losing his mobility, apologised humbly in the name of the Church and he showed compassion. We witnessed an act of charity.


In the 19th century, many Euro-Canadians would have looked upon North American natives as “savages” who should be civilised. However, Canada did not begin in 1867. The French would not have survived without the help of Amerindians. They provided snowshoes and canoes to the legendary voyageurs. The French could not otherwise harvest furs, New France’s gold.

The way Sir John A. Macdonald implemented Confederation was a throwback to the Age of Discovery. He acted like a conquistador. Canada’s indigenous population, its “savages,” were sent to Reserves, and their children were forcibly taken to Residential Schools. However, Sir John A. Macdonald lived in the 19th century. At that time in history, the British Empire was the mightiest. Britain’s might led to concepts such as the “rights of Englishmen” and considerable self-entitlement. Cecil Rhodes wanted to paint the world “red,” the Empire’s colour and India‘s Thomas Babington Macaulay favoured instruction in the English language. It was called Macaulayism. (See An Analogue, at the foot of this post.)

I cannot think of a nobler and more charitable mission than Pope Francis’s visit to Canada. Canadians were blessed.


Sources and Resources

Image(s) from Vatican News (go to YouTube Vatican News)

Love to everyone 💕

Pope Francis in Canada (go to YouTube and type Vatican News)


An Analogue

In India, Thomas Babington Macaulay (1900-1859) advocated a system of education consistent with Britain’s in nearly every way, including the training of teachers and the use of English as the language of instruction:

India's Macaulayism, by which indigenous Indian educational and vocational customs were repressed, included the replacement of the Persian language with the English language as the official language of instruction in all schools, and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. (See Macaulayism, Wikipedia.)

England had a “civilising mission.”

We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.
(See Macaulayism, Wikipedia.)

According to professor Kapil Kapoor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, India‘s educational system still “marginalise[s] inherited learning.”

© Micheline Walker
6 August 2022